Egypt sentences Al Jazeera staff to three years in prison
Al Jazeera journalists Canadian Mohamed Fahmy (left), and Egyptian Baher Mohamed stand outside Cairo's Torah prison, July 30, 2015. (AFP/File)
An Egyptian court sentenced on Saturday three journalists who worked for the Qatari news network Al Jazeera to three years of maximum security prison for spreading false news.
Canadian national Mohamed Fahmy, Egyptian national Baher Mohamed and Australian national Peter Greste were being retried for defaming Egypt and spreading false news, after the Cassation Court dropped their seven to 10 years in prison sentences in January.
Mohamed was sentenced to a further six months for arms possession; a spent bullet casing.
The head of the court said that it was clear to the court that the defendants "are not journalists and are not registered with [Egypt's] press syndicate or the State Information Service."
He added that it was proved that the defendants possessed unlicensed devices and spread "false news" on Al Jazeera channel to "harm the country", noting that Al Jazeera is doesn't possess a license to work in Egypt.
"Shocked. Outraged. Angry. Upset. None of them convey how I feel right now," Greste, who was sentenced in absentia, tweeted. "Three year sentences for @bahrooz [Mohamed], @MMFahmy11 [Fahmy] and me is so wrong."
The sentence was also condemned by Al Jazeera Media Network's Acting Director General Mostefa Souag, who said the sentence "defies logic and common sense."
"Today's verdict is yet another deliberate attack on press freedom. It is a dark day for the Egyptian judiciary; rather than defend liberties and a free and fair media they have compromised their independence for political reasons," Souag said in a statement.
The case involved six other defendants; six were sentenced to three years in prison while the remaining two were acquitted.
All verdicts are subject to appeal.
Saturday's session was attended by Fahmy's international lawyer, Amal Clooney. The Canadian, Dutch and British ambassadors to Cairo were also among the attendants.
The three journalists were arrested from the Marriott Hotel in Cairo's posh island of Zamalek in December 2013 and initially sentenced to prison in June 2014. They spent no less than 400 days in prison before their release in February 2015 on different days and under different conditions.
The defendants' prison sentences were widely condemned worldwide and opened the door for scrutinising press freedoms in Egypt.
Greste was the first of the trio to be granted his freedom.
He was deported on February 1 as per a presidential decree, which allows the deportation of foreign defendants and convicts "whenever the [state's] supreme interest necessitate so."
Greste told Aswat Masriya in an interview in July he respected the judicial process and expected the court's upcoming decision to demonstrate "that it is both fair and just."
In the hopes of benefiting from the same decree which saw Greste released, Fahmy, who held a dual Egyptian-Canadian citizenship prior to the trial, revoked his Egyptian citizenship in February.
Yet, giving up his nationality did not speed up his release and both he and Mohamed were released as per a court order on the same day, February 12.
Al Jazeera suspended on December 22 the broadcast of its Egyptian channel, Jazeera Mubasher Misr, two days after Egypt and Qatar "responded" to the late Saudi monarch's invitation "to consolidate relations between them".
The suspension will last until the "circumstances are appropriate" for return, the channel said. It added that it is seeking the conclusion of necessary permits for broadcasting in Egypt, in coordination with the authorities.
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